Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was kicked off the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a party-line vote that followed a contentious debate on the House floor Thursday morning that included yelling and Omar defending herself, on the verge of tears.
Democrats have aggressively pushed back against Republicans trying to compare the rebuke of Omar to those of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Gosar, saying that the offenses are not the same.
“I had a member of the Republican caucus threaten my life and … the Republican caucus rewarded him with one of the most prestigious committee assignments in this Congress. Don’t tell me this is about consistency,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said on the floor, her voice rising as fellow Democrats clapped. “This is about targeting women of color in the United States of America.”
Gosar had posted a video on social media that depicted him killing Ocasio-Cortez, and Greene was removed from her committees after social media postings approving of violence toward Democratic leaders.
The resolution Thursday explicitly condemned Omar for using an antisemitic trope in 2019 to suggest Israel’s allies in U.S. politics were motivated by money rather than principle when she tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.”
The resolution also disapproved of Omar’s critiques of Israel and her comparison of actions by the United States to those of terrorist groups. She later clarified those comments, saying, “I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”
During the vote, liberal Democrats taunted Republicans by repeatedly chanting “order” and “close it” when time expired to consider the resolution and there were not enough votes for it to pass. Republicans have argued for regular order since taking over the majority, including closing votes when time expired, but kept Thursday’s vote open for several minutes to allow for their colleagues to put the vote over the edge.
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When the vote total was declared, Greene stood up and clapped while other hard-right Republicans did the same. Ocasio-Cortez shouted across the aisle in frustration, though it was unclear what she said.
Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), while noting that Omar has made mistakes, forcefully defended her in a Thursday morning news conference, saying: “What’s going to take place on the floor today is not a public policy debate. It’s not about accountability. It’s about political revenge.”
Omar, a refugee from Somalia, is one of the first Muslim women to serve in the House of Representatives and often faces death threats and other threats of violence. Her office told The Washington Post that violent threats have increased considerably since she has been in the news again. On Wednesday, Omar tweeted an expletive-laden voice mail she received this week in which a man said, “I’ll put a bullet in your f------ head and get the f--- out of my country.”
“These threats increase whenever Republicans put a target on my back,” she wrote. “They can continue to target me, but they will never stop me from fighting for a more just world.”
Asked about the correlation between attacks on Omar by Republicans and the rise in threats, Greene said she faces the same attacks.
“Don’t just cover her death threats,” she said. “Cover mine too, because there’s plenty of them.”
Omar spoke in her own defense Thursday, next to a picture of herself as a child, saying the debate Republicans have brought up is about, “who gets to be an American? What opinions do you have to have to be counted as American? That is what this debate is about. There is this idea that you are suspect if you are an immigrant or if you are from a certain part of the world, of a certain skin tone or a Muslim.”
Republicans had initially faced enough internal opposition to threaten the resolution’s passage. Some Republicans raised concerns that removing Omar from the committee was simply an act of retribution after Democrats stripped Greene and Gosar of their assignments last term. To assuage those concerns, Republican leaders devoted time in their last two weekly conference meetings to reminding members of things Omar said over the years, a move some lawmakers considered as a threat to fall in line.
In a lengthy conversation with reporters late Wednesday, McCarthy said the presentation was just a standard heads-up from leaders to the rank-and-file about upcoming votes and pushed back on the assertion that he had to work to earn the vote, stating, “I’ve always had the vote.”
Yet, Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) only agreed to vote for the resolution Tuesday, after initially stating she was opposed, because a provision was added that Republicans argue provides due process to Omar. During a Rules Committee hearing Tuesday evening, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) admitted the resolution has a “vanishingly small amount” of due process, but that it “may have been enough to get somebody’s vote.”
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) also said Wednesday he would support the measure after McCarthy signaled a willingness to work on instituting a new rule that would make “it clearer and more difficult to remove people” from committees in the future. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) confirmed shortly before the scheduled vote that she would support the resolution, saying McCarthy agreed to have a vote on a resolution that would amend House rules around removing a lawmaker from a committee assignment.
Before the vote, McCarthy said he had spoken to Jeffries and proposed forming a small bipartisan group of lawmakers to write and define a code of conduct standard that could be added into the House rules once a consensus is reached.
“I think in moving forward, every single member of Congress has a responsibility to how they carry themselves,” he said. “And it’s responsible upon us to let them know what that is and what is the due process, in a bipartisan way, that we can deal with it.”
A spokesperson for Jeffries said he will “further evaluate [McCarthy’s] proposal upon the selection of the Republican members who he wants to participate in this discussion.”
McCarthy and Republicans have argued their decision to remove Omar is less aggressive than Democrats’ removal of Greene and Gosar, since they are only removing the Minnesota Democrat from one committee where she could receive classified information.
“Given her biased comments against Israel and against the Jewish people, how can she serve as an objective decision-maker on the committee?” asked Rep. Max L. Miller (R-Ohio), who introduced the resolution Thursday and is Jewish.
McCarthy also justified removing Omar based on remarks she made while serving in office, a point Republicans have argued make them different from Democrats. While Democrats did remove Greene from all her committees based on inflammatory remarks made before she was elected, Democrats stripped Gosar from his assignments based on behavior while he was in office.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the only other Muslim woman in the House, became emotional as she defended Omar on the House floor.
“So desperate to distract the American people from their total inability to govern, the GOP is now doing what it is best at: weaponizing hate against a Black, beautiful, Muslim woman,” Tlaib said on the House floor. “It is so painful to watch.”
Though Omar knew she would be voted off her committee, she stood before the House to pledge she would continue to speak up for her constituents and those fleeing oppression, as she did when she was a child.
“I didn’t come to Congress to be silent,” she said to cheers from her Democratic colleagues, her voice catching. “My leadership and voice will not be diminished if I am not on this committee for one term. My voice will get louder and stronger and my leadership will be celebrated around the world, as it has been.”
Camila DeChalus, Leigh Ann Caldwell and Liz Goodwin contributed to this report.